Thursday 14 June 2012

British Waterways New Model Army

A few days ago elsewhere on the canal we met up with a couple of the British Waterways New Model Army of volunteers. These are the first contingent of the Staffordshire volunteers that we have met. It was quite illuminating to chatter with them. One was an "Old Hand" who had been on the job so to speak for several weeks. The other was very new and quiet and I could see that some of the waterway language had him baffled. A nice couple of people who were very helpful and seemed to know what they were doing. 

However, this raises a couple of questions. 

With well over 500 varied locks under our belts. Who were the most experienced people at the locks. Their multiple operation of the same lock contrasted to our varied experience of many different lock types and configurations. Local knowledge -v- wider experience.

The second question is about responsibility. I know that we are responsible for our own safety at all times. I know that we have a duty of care to others. But when we come to a manned lock we tend to defer to the "Lock Keeper" being in charge. The Keeper having Local knowledge and a wide experience of locks.

If I meet up with another boat at a lock, I defer charge to the crew of whoever owns the boat in the lock. They give out the directions for opening and closing paddles and I only assist with opening and closing the lock gates. If they don't take charge, I will always ask before helping to operate the lock. 

If its a shared lock, I try to share the operation by giving thumbs up acknowledgements or asking if they are ready. At the same time, sharing the work and exchanging pleasantries. 

If it is a hire boat, I always try to take charge of the operations.  Working on the assumption that they were inexperienced at lock operation and had enough on their plate just operating the boat. Giving some hints and tips on lock operation as we go along.  You have to make a judgement call by observing the other crew and are they being methodical and safe. (The best crew we ever shared lock operations with were on a hire boat on the Leeds Liverpool canal. But they had over twenty years of experience of hiring every year. They also took a pride in their boating skills.)

Now the volunteer lock keepers are going to be an unknown quantity. I feel sure that there will be issues. Fingers crossed that we are not involved.


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